POMONA, Calif., (Jan. 25, 2001) --- Jim Yates is excited about the beginning of the National Hot Rod Association's 50th anniversary year, and for good reasons. He has a new career, a new Pontiac Grand Am racecar and starts a new three-year ...
POMONA, Calif., (Jan. 25, 2001) --- Jim Yates is excited about the beginning of the National Hot Rod Association's 50th anniversary year, and for good reasons.
He has a new career, a new Pontiac Grand Am racecar and starts a new three-year sponsorship agreement with SplitFire Spark Plugs and PEAK Antifreeze, three prime factors relating to his excitement. He also believes he can be a contender for the Pro Stock championship when the 23-race campaign opens with the AutoZone Winternationals, Feb. 1-4 at Pomona Raceway.
This event not only will be a critical test for Yates and his Grand Am, it serves as the beginning for a new way of life for the Alexandria, Va., competitor. He sold his auto parts stores in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area late last year and is now a true professional racer.
"I'm really excited about starting my new career," Yates said. "You have no idea how great it is to not have to worry about the parts business and be able to focus on just trying to win races. We did a lot of testing during the winter and I'm very happy with the progress we made. We are way ahead of where we were last year.
"We've liked everything we've seen with the Grand Am so far and are encouraged with its performance potential," added Yates. "By the time we get to Pomona, we'll have put close to 100 runs on it. It runs pretty good numbers every time we let the clutch out and goes straight down the track."
Yates' "pretty good numbers" included several of his quickest runs - 6.81 seconds and several 6.83s - with speeds in excess of 201 mph. His career best elapsed time run in national events is 6.838 seconds and his top speed is 201.43 mph, both run at Memphis last October.
"There will be a lot of new cars out there," Yates noted, because Pontiac chose to use the Grand Am instead of the Firebird in 2001. "We know what our SplitFire/PEAK Grand Am will do on a test track, now it's time to put it on a national event track and see what it will do. You never know until you go to Pomona and run against (1998-99 champion) Warren Johnson or (2000 champion) Jeg Coughlin. I feel like the opportunity is there for us to shine."
Yates does know something about winning. He won consecutive Winston Series championships in 1996 and 1997, winning eight races in 1996 and nine in '97.
He counts two Winternationals victories (1996, 1998) among his 22 career wins. He was runner-up at Pomona in 1992 and was the No. 1 qualifier at the track last year.
That pole position turned out to be one of a few highlights last season. Yates battled a recalcitrant racecar much of the way and couldn't find the consistency necessary to win races. He finished eighth overall and didn't get to the winner's circle, although he was runner-up twice.
"We relied on the car to do its job and react to the tuning changes we made (during races)," Yates recalled. "We'd make the changes but the car didn't follow those changes. From what we've seen with our new car, it will respond to tuning changes.
"We're going to find out at Pomona, a national event track where we're running against national event competition," Yates said. "I think we have fine-tuned all aspects of our program - reaction time, horsepower improvements from engine builder Bob Ingles, a great chassis and a great team with Terry Adams as crew chief. I'm really excited about our chances."
The Winternationals, Yates concluded, "is the first stop in a long journey to the championship. It's like a poker game. All the cards are in the deck, now we have to go out and play them."
Winternationals Pro Stock qualifying is scheduled at 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon and 2:30 p.m. Saturday.